By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The 2013 Campeonato Brasileiro (national tournament), informally known as the “Brasileirão,” kicks off today with two Carioca clubs in action. São Januário outfit Vasco da Gama begin their campaign against Portuguesa whilst Carioca (Rio state) champions, Botafogo, travel to São Paulo to face current Libertadores and world champions, Corinthians.
On Sunday, May 26th, Flamengo take on Santos and defending Brasileirão champions, Fluminense, host Atlético-PR. The Tricolor are likely to field a reserve side as they travel to Paraguay for the second leg of their Copa Libertadores quarter-final tie on Wednesday night.
Despite the distraction of South America’s premier club prize, Flu remain one of the favorites to lift the title again in December. They have retained the core of their squad last year, as well as added the experienced Felipe and young Rhayner, who, despite a lack of goals, is bursting with pace and potential.
Having lifted the Carioca crown earlier this month, big things are expected of Botafogo. Coach Oswaldo de Oliveira has built a well-balanced side which is pleasing on the eye going forward.
Goalkeeper Jefferson is one of the finest goalies in the country and is supported by center-halves Bolívar and Dória, the latter of whom looks destined for great things in the game. The attacking trio of Seedorf, Lodeiro and Fellype Gabriel blends experience, youth and creativity, lacking only a consistent center-forward to fire the Alvinegro forward. That being said, Libertadores qualification via a top four league finish is certainly within their grasp.
For Rio’s other two clubs, Vasco and Flamengo, 2013 should be a year of transition. Both sides suffered premature exits from the Campeonato Carioca and have lost big name players.
Fernando Prass, Dedé, Juninho Pernambucano, Felipe, Nilton, Diego Souza and Alecsandro have all departed Vasco in the past few months, leaving the squad threadbare. Flamengo waved goodbye to goal threat Vágner Love in January.
The Rubro-Negro are showing signs of improvement in the Copa do Brasil, but a push for Brasileiro success this term appears beyond the city’s two most well-supported clubs after so many months of turbulence and upheaval.
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